The Ascent Group, Inc.

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The Customer Experience Rules

An extract from IVR Improvement Strategies 2011, a new research report published by the Ascent Group, Inc.

IVR Integrated Voice Response (IVR) is the most widely used call center technology worldwide, after the switch or Automatic Call Distributor (ACD). IVR is a telecommunications technology that accepts a combination of voice and telephone touch-tone keypad input and provides appropriate responses in the form of voice, fax, callback, e-mail and perhaps other media. IVR technology has evolved from DTMF (Dial Tone Multi-Frequency, or touch-tone) to ASR (Automated Speech Recognition) in recent years with the maturity of voice recognition engines.

Customer Experience Rules

Companies are now realizing the importance of aligning internal quality goals and measurements with the customer or end-user's quality goals and expectations--measuring the customer experience rather than management's interpretation of the customer experience. This approach is now being reflected in call quality monitoring and the coaching of agents. The same concept is also applied to the virtual rep--whether it is the IVR or the web site.

In short, IVR technology offers companies more cost effective call management through call segmentation, automated call handling, and informational messaging. IVR offers customers 24- hour services and privacy. IVRs can also help companies manage peak call volumes, enabling companies to be more responsive to more customers.

Ultimately, IVR success rests on the quality and outcome of the conversation or interaction, just like calls into the call center or visits to a web site. Regardless of the channel--IVR, email, letter, voice, website--it all comes down to the quality of the interaction and the resolution.

Make sure you have a clear strategy for your IVR deployment. While the technology has a lot of potential, successful deployment requires a good deal of customer research and a clear strategy. Most companies pursue IVR technology for the following reasons:

  • Improve the customer experience:
    • Offer self-service options
    • 24-hour self-service
    • Privacy
  • Maximize cost savings through:
    • Automation
    • Streamlining and systems integration
    • More effective customer authentication, call routing, and call flow management
    • Cost effective overflow call handling to handle peaks

Properly deployed, IVR technology offers companies more cost effective call management through call segmentation, automated call handling, and informational messaging. IVRs can also help companies manage peak call volumes, improving overall responsive to customers. However, it is important to work through these goals prior to development to ensure that your technology is properly aligned to your strategy. No matter how badly you may want to maximize your cost savings with IVR technology, if the customer experience is poor, so goes your entire deployment.

Benchmark Study of IVR Deployment

To better understand the state-of-IVR, the Ascent Group recently conducted a benchmarking project to evaluate IVR performance, to understand the never-ending IVR deployment challenges, and to identify IVR “best practices”. Thirty companies from seven industries participated in the research. This is the 9th study of IVR deployment study conducted by the Ascent Group.

The main objective of the study was to evaluate the strategic deployment of interactive voice response technology and to identify best practices or opportunities for improvement. Secondary objectives included understanding:

  • The range of deployment strategies;
  • Primary business objectives and drivers of IVR deployment;
  • How IVR technology fits into a customer service strategy, and
  • How companies incorporate the customer perspective.

Participants were asked to share the history of their IVR deployment, including design strategies, performance statistics, best practices, and lessons learned. The study also asked companies to relate how they measure the success of their IVR implementation and to relay any improvement plans moving forward. The following pages summarize the study’s findings, observations, and recommendations.


What Did We Learn?

Automation is most important driver of IVR deployment for our participants, followed closely by customer satisfaction. Participants deploy IVR applications that satisfy from 1 percent of calls handled to as many as 83 percent, indicating varying degrees of maturity and functionality in the panel's technology and the variations by industry.

The most popular IVR self-service application was not surprising--account inquiry, something that is common to all industries. Eighty-three percent of participants offered the ability to obtain account and billing information through the IVR.

IVR technology has been deployed within our panel, on average, for 8 to 9 years.

Half of our study participants utilize automated speech recognition (ASR). Another 6 percent have near-term plans to implement speech recognition in the near future. In total, 56 percent of participants have or plan to have ASR. In a similar study conducted by the Ascent Group in 1996, speech recognition was offered by less than 10 percent of participants. At that time, most were waiting for the technology to improve, and it clearly has. However, deployment since then has been slow. In contrast, eighty-seven percent of participants have deployed CTI (Computer-Telephony- Integration) in conjunction with their IVR.


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